Burial Rites

By Philip Levine b. 1928 Philip Levine
Everyone comes back here to die
as I will soon. The place feels right
since it’s half dead to begin with.
Even on a rare morning of rain,
like this morning, with the low sky
hoarding its riches except for
a few mock tears, the hard ground
accepts nothing. Six years ago
I buried my mother’s ashes
beside a young lilac that’s now
taller than I, and stuck the stub
of a rosebush into her dirt,
where like everything else not
human it thrives. The small blossoms
never unfurl; whatever they know
they keep to themselves until
a morning rain or a night wind
pares the petals down to nothing.
Even the neighbor cat who shits
daily on the paths and then hides
deep in the jungle of the weeds
refuses to purr. Whatever’s here
is just here, and nowhere else,
so it’s right to end up beside
the woman who bore me, to shovel
into the dirt whatever’s left
and leave only a name for some-
one who wants it. Think of it,
my name, no longer a portion
of me, no longer inflated
or bruised, no longer stewing
in a rich compost of memory
or the simpler one of bone shards,
dirt, kitty litter, wood ashes,
the roots of the eucalyptus
I planted in ’73,
a tiny me taking nothing,
giving nothing, and free at last.

“Burial Rights” by Philip Levine. Copyright 2007 by Philip Levine. Used by permission of the author.

Source: The New Yorker (Unpublished Collection, 2007)

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Poet Philip Levine b. 1928

Subjects Growing Old, Living, Death